Four Lessons I’ve Learned From Serving In Young Adult Ministry

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone

About a year and a half ago, God asked me to commit all my meager talents and resources to serving in young adult ministry. It took me about six months to actually take the step of faith. I’ve had the privilege of serving  young adults in Collin County through ELEVATE | Young Adult Ministry for several months now as a Ministry Director.  I’ve decided to reflect on four lessons I’ve learned in serving. I’d like to share them with you.

1.  (Some) Churches Care About Young Adults, But They’ve Been Burned

I often encourage the ELEVATE leadership team to prepare for a tough road. As a collaborative young adult ministry (a ministry shared by multiple churches), we champion two ideas churches seem to care the least about: young adults and unity (collaboration).

Churches like to quote scripture and talk about unity and “needing to do something about young adults,” but that’s often where it ends. With talking. Unfortunately, I find most churches are far more interested in growing their memberships than investing in reaching the lost next generation and working together with other churches.  Why is this so? The answer is the same for both. Trust.

Most churches I interact with are suffering from competition paralysis. The capitalist worldview and business mindset paralyzes their ability to make strong financial (and other resource) investments into collaborative young adult ministries like ours. Either they are afraid the young adults are not worth the resources, or they are afraid someone will steal “their” members.

As a result, collaboration is generally met with an agreeable cynicism. Agreeable in the sense that unity is a solid concept, but cynical about it ever coming to lasting fruition. Similarly, churches seem afraid to trust resources to young adults. Either there is not enough “in it for them” (YA are not big tithers/attenders) or they’ve been burned by previous efforts (see point 2).

They much prefer to play it safe by hedging their bets on traditional mainstays (adult ministries, kids ministries, and student ministries) in the name of “good stewardship.” (which is another topic for another day)

2.  Stereotypes are Stereotypes for a Reason

Young adults are known to be inconsistent, unreliable, flaky and noncommittal. Let me just say yes, yes, and yes. They have totally earned this reputation. I have yet to have more than half of those who commit to an event actually show up for it (unless said event has a “ball” associated). Total crap shoot. People sign up for things (on Facebook events, or other means of committing) and simply no-show. You can bank on it! And yes, it’s crazy frustrating.

Part of leading well is accepting reality. And the reality is, young adults need to be called out for their flakiness and inconsistencies. I still believe young adults are the most underestimated, underused resource in the ministry of the American Church. But they are not victims of stereotypical prejudice.

And yet, many young adults defy the stereotype. They ready and willing to step up. I’ve been encouraged and delighted by serving along some of these passionate young adults who jump at the chance to be used by God. When placed in their sweet spot, they are solid contributors who defy expectations.

3.  There Are Generally Two Types of Young Adults

On a typical college campus, there are two types of young adults: Party People and Rally People.

Party People are driven by their need for fun and excitement. They largely desire freedom, friendships and fun! They are consumers, looking for the best bang for their “time” buck. For “Christian” Party People, church/mission activities are fine until something more fun and exciting comes along. In essence, they come, they eat, they leave. And they expect to have had a enjoyed themselves with good friends for their time.

Rally People, on the other hand, are more concerned with impact than recreational excitement. They desire to see society changed for the better. They want a cause to throw their passion into. They see injustices and want to participate in change… and are willing to sacrifice to do it. They, too, enjoy fun and friendship, but they understand it to be a perk of working together for change, not a reason for joining a ministry.

Christian “Rallyers” are often frustrated by the lack of opportunities to really impact the things most important to them through the church. This probably accounts for much of the mass young adult exodus from church. They simply do not see local churches as catalysts for change. So they leave, and use their passion, persistence and drive to change society for the better, elsewhere. The result usually ends up being a social revolution (which, by the way, are nearly exclusively led by large legions of young adults), many of which end up impacting the influence of the church on society in negative ways.

Unfortunately, we’ve spent the last few decades attracting Party People and trying to “rally” them in our (few) young adult ministries. It’s not worked well.

4.  Slow and Steady

I may sound down on young adults. I’m not.

I am simply revealing the very real challenges of serving this demographic. To lead well, you not only need vision and the proper definition of success, you also need to know where you are now and the challenges to achieving your goals.

Change takes time. Cultures are not transformed overnight. Habits are not broken or formed quickly. Learning new ways of seeing things, new ways of defining successes, and new ways to structure ministry and build a solid foundation need a slow and steady approach for sustainable growth. Patience is key in this ministry — with churches who are not trusting young adults, churches who wear competition glasses (and see only threat) instead of collaboration glasses (who see opportunity), and with young adults who need someone to help elevate them to the next level of their Christian life and social ministry.

It all takes time.

And time is what I plan to give it. The stakes are too high to rush the right kinds of results, or to settle for the fool’s gold of success defined by numbers. Vision must be clear and reiterated. Strategies must be in place to address the challenges we’ve laid out. And people need to be inspired to follow God into obedience to serve the ministry God asks them to serve in.

Only then, will we see a revival in ELEVATE, in Christian young adults across the nation, and thus in the church of tomorrow!

P.S. I am currently raising financial support as a local missionary to young adults in Collin County. Funds raised support my role as Ministry Director for ELEVATE.

If you are interested in supporting me, find out about donating HERE!

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.